Now that the champagne has lost its fizz in Taranaki and Manawatu, it’s time to select Planet Rugby’s Team of the ITM Cup.
Now that the champagne has lost its fizz in Taranaki and Manawatu, it’s time to pick our Team of the Tournament.
ITM Cup: Team of the Tournament
15 Nehe Milner-Skudder (Manawatu) – Rewarded with a Hurricanes first-team contract and rightly so after an outstanding season for the Turbos. He helped his team to the Championship title after making 23 clean breaks, 128 carries and 995 metres. One special offload also helped him see off Tasman’s consistent full-back Robbie Malneek and Taranaki captain James Marshall, both of whom had great campaigns in New Zealand.
14 Ryan Tongia (Hawke’s Bay) – First off mentions for Auckland powerhouse George Moala, who continues to show promise, and also Taranaki sharpshooter Codey Rei after a faultless performance in the final. However, Magpies wing Tongia couldn’t be ignored as his ten tries and 21 clean breaks see him take our right wing jersey.
13 Seta Tamanivalu (Taranaki) – Last season we had Malakai Fekitoa taking the ITM Cup by storm and in 2015 we will have a new outside centre to watch out for in Super Rugby. Tamanivalu was outstanding throughout as he was in the top bracket of carries, metres, defenders beaten and clean breaks. Jason Emery meanwhile continues to mature as a player and was key to Manawatu winning the Championship and with it promotion.
12 Bundee Aki (Counties) – New Zealand’s loss is Connacht’s gain. Aki leaves after another strong season, with the game away at Tasman – when he was outstanding – probably his highlight. Tom Marshall was a real leader in midfield for Tasman going forward but a tackle percentage of less than 70 let him down. Meanwhile, Taranaki centre Charlie Ngatai was influential in their final triumph with two tries, but Aki was superb. Look out for him, PRO12.
11 James Lowe (Tasman) – One of the players of the tournament with well over 1000 metres racked up, 154 carries and eight tries. Lowe’s left boot proved invaluable to the Makos while he beat 42 defenders this season. Big mentions go to Waikato finisher Joe Webber and Taranaki’s powerful Waisake Naholo, with the former impressing with eight tries of his own.
10 Marty Banks (Tasman) – Harsh on Taranaki pivot Marty McKenzie, who scored five tries? Maybe, but Banks (Mr ITM Cup), again stood out as a classy ten. He topped the points chart with 173 and directed Tasman superbly in 2014. Unlucky to be a beaten finalist last week.
9 Augustine Pulu (Counties) – The third scrum-half in New Zealand’s touring squad this November and rightly so after another good campaign for the Steelers. Jimmy Cowan and Sonatane Takulua earn mentions but big metres, offloads and his strength get Pulu in.
8 Blade Thomson (Taranaki) – A hot property in New Zealand rugby right now as his ability to perform to a high standard in the second-row or number eight made him priceless to Taranaki. He scored a whopping seven tries, made nine clean breaks and also beat 23 defenders to claim our number eight spot ahead of Tasman’s mobile Liam Squire and Canterbury’s Nasi Manu, who were rock solid for their respective sides this season.
7 Matt Todd (Canterbury) – Southland had their very own tackling machine in Tim Boys, who brought down 158 attackers at an 89 percent rate. However Todd, particularly in the early to mid-term, was a carrying and try-scoring threat for Canterbury, crossing five times. At the back of mauls or in open play, he waits patiently for a regular place in the All Blacks squad.
6 Jordan Taufua (Counties) – His game has gone on another level this season and we could well be seeing a lot more of Taufua in the Crusaders jersey and possibly even an All Black call-up in 2015. He scored crossed three times and was a devastating ball carrier for the Steelers whilst putting in close to 100 tackles. A mention goes to Wellington’s Brad Shields who made the fifth most carries in 2014, as he never gave up the fight for the Lions.
5 James Broadhurst (Taranaki) – Hands down, the stand-out lock in the competition. Broadhurst was superb for the champions and backed up a strong Super Rugby season in style, taking 46 line-outs, offloading 16 times and being a vital hard-working cog in the XV.
4 Alex Ainley (Tasman) – Three seasons playing for the Mitsubishi Dynabours in Japan followed by an excellent ITM Cup campaign sees Ainley pick up a Super Rugby contract with the Highlanders. Ainley claimed 28 line-out takes and is a shrewd signing at the age of 33.
3 Nepo Laulala (Canterbury) – Like Taufua at Counties, his Crusaders team-mate Laulala is now surely banging on the international door after another strong campaign for Canterbury. Laulala’s physicality in the loose and set-piece solidity at scrum-time pushes him ahead of Tasman tighthead prop Ross Geldenhuys, who deserves his contract at the Highlanders.
2 Rhys Marshall (Taranaki) – Expect to see a lot more of Codie Taylor in a Canterbury and Crusaders jersey as he continues his game-time battle with Ben Funnell. Taylor consistently made an impact but Marshall featured in almost double the amount of minutes to his closest challenger, making 114 tackles and then going on to score a key try in the Premiership final.
1 Pauliasi Manu (Counties) – Brilliant for the Steelers as he mixed strength up front with a comfortable ability on the ball. His skills and carrying in open play made him a valuable member of the Counties squad and expect him to show this again in Chiefs colours in 2015.